Last week, I sat down with Heidi Wiechert to tell the story of Emma Romeiser Pannes… today the story went live. It is accompanied by a video interview with Derik Holtmann that narrates a bit of her and John’s life set against the backdrop of what they’re most known for: that they died on the Hindenburg.
This has been an incredible experience and I am so grateful that both Heidi and Derik were so thorough. My fear in all of this is that I would miss something or not do Emma and John justice… I shouldn’t have worried about that. The BND honored them both in such a real way.
Here is the link to the story. I hope you’ll share it.
If you found my blog through the story, welcome! Please scroll through the archives to check out my other posts. We’ve tried to mix it up with home renovation projects, historical research, and introducing the original family. We also document our day to day on Instagram. Give us a follow @thebrickandmaple!
Thank you to everyone at the Belleville News Democrat for this incredible story!
Imagine the twinkle in a Father’s eye as he gazes upon his sweet children. Picture the care and devotion that went into nurturing tiny loves, joy felt in watching them reach milestones, the swelling of pride as they learned to read and sing and dance. Imagine an outing to a photographer in St. Louis specifically to capture those little moments forever. The year would have been sometime in the early 1890s- perhaps 1891 or 2…
I can see it now. Peter and Elise Romeiser rise for the day and, with the help of their house maid Lizzie, delicately clean and ready three crisp, white dresses, stockings, and hair ribbons. They bathe the three sweet, beloved Romeiser daughters and tie their hair in bows. Peter readies the carriage that will take them into St. Louis to photographer F.W. Guerin.
Fitz W. Guerin was a New York native and at the age of 13 set out for St. Louis to work for Merrill Drug Company. As a teen he joined the Union Army, later becoming the recipient of the Medal of Honor in the Civil War. On returning to civilian life, he became a successful society and celebrity photographer in St. Louis.
The Romeisers, being of high society, utilized his services on this day in the early 1890s. The photograph, preserved for over a century, comes to us via the St. Clair County Historical Society and the hard work of their curator, William P. Shannon IV. In meeting with him yesterday, he supplied this image that actually made me cry.
In the photo, you’ll see eldest Romeiser daughter Emma, born in 1880. She would be around 11 or 12 in this photo. In the middle is Petra, aged 8/9, and on the far right is Corona, who we haven’t introduced to you yet, dear reader. Corona was born in 1887, the same year Peter built this impressive house on Abend Street.
I look at these sweet faces and at once am both overjoyed and saddened. Overjoyed because I know how deeply they were loved. Saddened because I know of the harrowing and heartbreaking experiences they will encounter as they get older. Their life at this point is so charmed… I am comforted by the fact that they won’t yet experience the first of their tragedies for another 15-years.
It’s how I can also see this lovely photo of Emma from 1899 with still a modicum of joy. Also provided by Will at the SCCHS, this photo is dated and signed by Emma. Christmas, 1899. She would have been 19… she was living life as a new adult, enjoying parties, engagements, and life in high-society, even having been named to the court of the 1898 Belleville Flower Carnival.
Of all the Romeiser children, I feel a special connection with Emma. Perhaps in name, perhaps the fact that she’s the eldest of their three daughters, I don’t know why– I just know deep in my bones that I have to tell her story. Tomorrow (Friday, April 27th), I’m meeting with a reporter from our local newspaper so we can put forth a special article about Emma ahead of the anniversary of the crashing of the Hindenburg. (To read my full post on Emma’s life, click here!)
It’s the first step in a long, thought-out process of getting Emma’s story published, of securing her place in the annals of history, of ensuring that no one ever forgets what happened to her and her family.
But for now, I can gaze upon these sweet faces and think about what their lives might have been.
Endless thanks to Will Shannon and the entire staff of employees and volunteers at the St. Clair County Historical Society. They work tirelessly to preserve these pieces of history and we could not be more grateful.
Stay sweet, be grateful, hug your babies. Take their photo today and cherish it. The Brick and Maple Family ❤
I can honestly say that I never once in my life pictured an afternoon spent researching the history of the doorbell. But, it’s still cold outside (surprise, surprise), so what else am I going to do? Clean? Yeah… right.
Recently, local Belleville history enthusiast and President of the Belleville Historical Society Larry Betz contacted me and my husband saying he had something of ours. He went on to explain that it was the original doorbell to the Romeiser house. When we met up with him, he explained further.
The house has been mostly occupied since it was built in 1887. The Romeiser family owned it until 1919 when it was sold, converted to a boarding house, and then later changing hands a few times over the years. When the house ultimately ended up in foreclosure in the early-20aughts, the house was essentially emptied. The fact that so much of our beautiful architectural details survived that time is impressive to me. Larry told us how he came in and was able to procure the home’s original doorbell and he’s been holding on to it ever since. He expressed how it was time to return it to its rightful place on the walls of this incredible home.
The doorbell itself is, at its core, simple, though advanced for the time. The fact that the Romeisers even HAD a doorbell is impressive. However, knowing how Peter Romeiser was at the forefront of basically every advancement and was a very progressive thinker, I’m not surprised. His store, The Romeiser Company, changed the way businesses operate. He was one of the first merchants to use a set-price model for his items… the price you see on the tag is what you pay, no haggling. His store was the first in Belleville to use interior electricity. We know for a fact he had a home telephone in 1906– if not earlier. He saw the value in invention, the beauty in progress, and he wanted to be a part of that.
We fully believe this doorbell is original to the home’s construction. (It looks almost identical to this image I found on Wikipedia of an 1884 doorbell from Budapest.) Simple clapper doorbells work through high-school science. When you push the button, you complete an electrical circuit. This “push-to-make” switch powers a hammer that rings a bell. My husband (you know, the one I previously mentioned who just knows how to do everything? Yeah. Him.), he totally got this thing to work while tinkering with it down in the basement. We may wrap our heads around REALLY getting it to work but for now will still display it lovingly.
I am so thankful to Larry for thinking of us and being so devoted to preserving history and saving the details of these old homes. Without his dedication, this piece of Romeiser house history would likely be lost today and we’d have had no way of knowing it ever existed.
His work with The Belleville Historical Society, along with the work of other members, is inspiring and exciting. And it’s for those reasons that I’ve decided to partner with them and join as a member. I’m also really thrilled to be able to announce that they’ve nominated me to a position on their Board of Trustees which was approved at their membership meeting last week!
The way that the pieces of my life have fallen into place within only 7 months of moving here is nothing less than extraordinary. The ways in which people have embraced us and supported us and encouraged us to get involved have made us feel more at home than any place we’ve lived in a really long time. I am practically buzzing with excitement over the possibilities and wondering what the future holds; it’s exactly the kind of life I pictured for myself when I was a little girl.
To check out what the Belleville Historical Society is all about, visit their website and consider joining or donating! So here’s to many, many more years researching Belleville homes and families, and preserving those stories for years to come. Even if it means spending an hour reading about doorbells.
Last week, we introduced you to the connection between the Romeisers and the Belleville Public Library. Missed the first post? Check it out here! And here… is the rest of the story.
At the end of Part I, you learned about how monies from leftover Romeiser Company stock had been donated to the library by Peter’s children. It was the first public donation made to the library and (in today’s terms) totaled upwards of $20,000.
On the 2nd floor of the library hangs a portrait of Peter. There is a small mark in the corner designating the photographer (Strauss of St. Louis) and the year, 1917– the year after his death. The library was constructed and dedicated in 1916 and the donation from his children came shortly thereafter. It only makes sense that this print was made specifically to be donated to the library along with the endowment funds. It is the only actual photograph of him we know to exist… everything else is either a drawing or a newspaper printing.
The library is filled with photos depicting prominent people and events in Belleville’s history. After spending so much time there, Mr. Brick and Maple and I just all of a sudden realized that of ALL the photographs hanging, Peter’s was the only one without an information marker. All the others have little placquards explaining their significance.
Well, if you know anything at all about me, you know that just didn’t sit well. So, I reached out to the library director to see if they would allow us to donate a plaque with a description of Peter and why he’s so important. We were thrilled when Mr. Leander Spearman, Director of the library, agreed!
As it turns out, there was no plaque next to Peter’s photo because there never HAD been one. Mr. Romeiser’s significance, his story, his family’s involvement in the development of the library, had all been lost to time. Mr. Spearman went on to explain that the portrait– Peter’s portrait– has remained somewhat of a mystery to the entire staff.
Today we were able to deliver the plaque to the library and have this small part of the Romeiser’s story saved for generations to come. We were also able to submit a blurb for the library’s new website and newsletter and have been asked to compile an informal book to add to the library archives for posterity.
It’s these kinds of passion projects that I absolutely LIVE FOR. I spend everyday excited that we can contribute in this way, that we have a small part in making sure no one forgets.
Next time you’re at the library, pop up to the second floor and say hey to Peter. You’ll know it’s him by his smile lines and the kindness in his eyes.
Located on E. Washington Street, the Belleville Library was constructed in 1916 by way of a $45,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation. Over the course of his adult life, Andrew Carnegie made it his personal crusade to build libraries all over the world. All said, Carnegie spent $55 million to build 1,679 libraries in the United States and 830 abroad.
During the library dedication ceremony on January 20, 1916, then-board director Jacob Aull encouraged all Belleville residents to thank Carnegie by sending him letters and postcards. (Photos of library dedication courtesy of the Belleville Historical Society)
Library Dedication, January 20, 1916
Library Dedication, January 20, 1916
Other than an addition made to the building in the 1970s, the original building stands almost unchanged. Updates and upgrades have been made throughout the years but otherwise, she stands just as she did in 1916.
Here’s where the Romeisers come in.
When Peter died in 1916, he left a detailed Will & Testament. Everything was covered from the house and land all the way down to each share of company stock. He divided up 300 shares amongst his children and left a reserve for philanthropy. His daughter, Emma, spearheaded the idea that the remaining children (herself and her three brothers Theodore, Edwin, and Alvin) use that reserve to make a public donation to the library.
The amount at the time, $1,680, was the first public donation to the Belleville library and equates to more than $20,000 in today’s terms.
Emma wrote a letter to Charles Grossart, who took over The Romeiser Company after Peter’s death, about what to do with the funds. Her letter reads: “My dear Mr. Grossart,
After months of pondering what to do with the money father left as a reserve, I have finally decided that a book shelf in the Public Library as an “In Memoriam” for father would be best of all. Alvin, Edwin, and Theodore are all agreed that it would please father. In this way, the money would be put to a fine purpose and serve to keep green his memory in the town in which he was so much interested. The best kind of monument. The details and arrangements, I’m afraid, I must leave to you. After the stock is sold and the money available, would you still be willing to act as trustee of the fund until it has been used up? My idea is that from time to time books of real value shall be added to the library, fiction excluded. Books perhaps like Carl Sandburg’s ‘Abraham Lincoln’ and Emil Ludwig’s wonderful ‘Napoleon,’ books that will be permanent additions to the library. Of course a library committee must be appointed and I would be pleased to have the list submitted to me if possible. Please let me know what you think of the plan, and what you would suggest in the matter. With greetings from all here to you and your family. Sincerely, Emma Pannes.”
The connection between the Romeisers and the library doesn’t end here… there’s a second part to this story that I’ll be covering next week. So be sure to hit ‘subscribe’ and check back next week for Part II! Stay sweet, The Brick and Maple Family
Published by the Reid-Fitch Publishing Company in St. Louis in 1905, the ‘Belleville Illinois Illustrated’ book is a fantastic depiction of Victorian life in Belleville.
It features text and photos of all the prominent businesses, structures, and homes in Belleville while also providing a little bit of history.
I was so excited to find not one but TWO photos of The Brick and Maple!!
Zooming in, it’s incredible to be able to see old stained glass windows, the original porch, the horse hitching post, and how much land they owned before selling the neighboring parcel around 1919. This is also likely the personal horse and carriage of the Romeiser Family. By searching old Sanborn fire maps, we know there was a carriage house constructed with the home in 1887. According to stories from neighbors, it may have stood even up until the 1990s. It looks as if Peter Romeiser himself is sitting in the carriage!
The entire digital version of the book is available online and is a fun way to spend a chilly Friday morning! Check it out here!
Because Pinterest is really French for “You Can’t Sit Still,” I am constantly taunted by exquisite home decor pins. When I stumbled upon one of a room painted Hague blue, I just knew I had to had to HAD TO have one of my own.
I’d been toying around with the idea of redoing our computer and music room so when we de-Christmased and I was staring at an awkwardly empty bay window, I knew now was the best time.
Check out the space before:
It was perfectly functionally but a bit… boring. There was no spice, no flavor, nothing bold. I didn’t feel like I’d injected any personality into the room whatsoever.
But now? Ohhhhh NOW it is warm and pulled together and cohesive and I am SO happy I went with such a bold color.
Enjoy these after shots!
I used Sherwin William’s Showcase ultra deep base paint-and-primer in “Narragansett Navy” and updated the radiators with Rustoleum’s Hammered Copper.
Design accents came from Target (their Project 62 line is to die for! Lamp, side table, and succulent are all Project 62), TJMaxx (throw, gold photo frame, and yellow flowers) and Amazon (rug, Persian Rugs Distressed 4620; shelf, Yaheetech). All the other design elements are antiques that I’ve collected over the years. The National Geographic Magazines belong to my great-grandmother Jennie and are all from the 1950s!
I am so beyond pleased with how this turned out… I can’t stop staring!!!
Let us know in the comments below… what’s your favorite feature?!
Note: I have no affiliate relationships with any of the stores or brands mentioned in this post!